The Basics of Evaluating Coffee

Evaluating the different components of coffee can be beneficial for a number of reasons. It can help you discover a preferred single origin, understand what you like and don’t like in terms of a coffee’s profile, and it can strengthen your palate. Evaluating coffee is done through a process of adding hot water into a cup or a glass of freshly ground coffee, known as a coffee cupping. In a traditional cupping, you will compare and contrast the qualities of different coffees from different countries or even different regions of the world. While cupping coffee, there are five key elements to consider in every brew, which affect the character of each specific coffee.

Aroma: The mouthwatering scent of brewed coffee. Aroma is an integral part of the coffee experience and is especially apparent when the coffee is first ground, and it sets the stage for the coffee’s flavor. Examples of aromas expressed by coffee include flowers, citrus fruits, caramel, fresh bread, and more. The scent of coffee before brewing is also called its fragrance.

Acidity: The perceived “brightness” of the coffee when tasted. Acidity usually determines the coffee’s overall character: lively, subdued, flat, round, sharp, tart, dry, crisp, and so on. Note that this “acidity” is a quality of the sensory experience—it’s felt on the tongue, not in the stomach.

Body: The weight of the coffee in the mouth, also called mouthfeel. It’s the tactile sensation of fats, oils, and sediment from the coffee suspended in the brewed solution. Coffees may feel heavy, light, buttery, thick, syrupy, watery, winy, and more.

Flavor: Perhaps the most important part of the coffee-tasting experience. Coffee’s flavor is determined by the beans’ organic makeup, nutrients supplied to the beans by the cherries, the caramelization of sugars during roasting, roast levels and more. Specialty coffee has an incredible range of flavors such as; berries, fruits, flowers, chocolate, spices, etc.

Aftertaste: The taste sensation that lingers on the tongue after drinking the coffee, also known as the finish. Coffees with a heavy body tend to have a more pronounced aftertaste. Aftertaste is often described in general terms, like spicy, smoky, woody and so on.

Cupping is something that requires practice, and with time your palate will strengthen. It is a great way to explore what specifically makes coffees unique from others while truly understanding what characteristics in coffee you are especially fond of. Here at Stockton Graham & Co., we hold a cupping each month in our Coffee College, where students will cup with our roastmaster, and will learn how to develop strong palate for hundreds of profiles that coffee can offer. For more information on coffee cupping, give us a call at 800.835.5943.

To see detailed descriptions of our coffees, take a look at the flavor profile panel on our  coffee description page.